15 March 2014

Advanced Agile: A Review

The work of Dr. Alistair Cockburn has informed and influenced my practice both as a software developer and as a business analyst over many years. More recently I have had cause to engage more deeply with his work (amongst that of many others), as a result of my (ongoing) attempt to write a PhD. Through sheer good luck, I had my first opportunity to hear Dr Cockburn speak about 12 months ago, the context was rather weird: this was at a local meet-up group which took place in a very odd venue (as they often do). The session was supposed to be a presentation on some aspect of Agile business analysis; however, the venue, which was a bar, did not offer a single large space, but rather lots of smaller irregular spaces and had nowhere from which a presentation could be delivered. So, we got a demonstration of how a master speaker and presenter is able to adapt both content and delivery on-the-fly.

Earlier this year, I came to hear that Dr. Cockburn going to be in Melbourne again – speaking at various venues and events – and would be delivering his Advanced Agile training course during March. I got very excited about this, although having neither the time nor the money to attend presented a minor problem. I was fairly sure it would have to go back on my bucket list but luckily a bit of fancy footwork combined with some weekend assignment marking presented an opportunity; so I grabbed it and signed up.

My lifetime preoccupation with collecting post-nominals has meant that I have attended a silly number of classes, training courses, workshops and other such events; most of which promise to emit a better, faster and more remunerable version of the participants. This one makes no such promise: reading the synopsis made me wonder whether I had accidentally signed up for fire-walking, or BASE-jumping as a path to self-knowledge. Two days out, I was getting a little nervous.

Ah Ha Gelato
I wanted to be challenged – and I was not disappointed – participants got kicked out of their comfort zone before morning tea on day one, by lunchtime you knew there is no going back. This is absolutely not talk and chalk; it is a hard mental and emotional workout and depending on the venue - which may require you to do a lot of running up and down stairs - a free physical workout as a bonus. The concepts and ideas that made up the syllabus were things I thought I knew and understood, but now I was being asked to unpack and reconstruct understanding and validate my assumptions. Hearing what was actually behind an idea, how it came to be and what its real intention was caused me to rethink and reframe. Each idea was offered up for discussion and then demonstrated through activities and exercises – some of which were surprisingly hard – all of which were illuminating in surprising ways. I don’t think I was alone in this view; I am guessing this because we were asked, to write “ah-ha’s” on stickies as they occurred throughout the course and stick them on the wall. By the last day of the course the room looked like a rainbow gelato.

The key take-away for me was a much deeper understanding of why and how the behaviours and beliefs about Agility that we see every day occur; particularly why and how these beliefs trap people in less than optimal situations and more importantly why it was never intended to be that way. I have some new tools in my tool kit and some existing tools have been revised and are now ready to be reused, but not in the way I have used them before. 

Dr. Cockburn is an excellent teacher – as you would expect – as well as being highly entertaining and extremely cranky if you don’t follow instructions (we were warned about this on day 1). This is a course you could do more than once, getting more or different things out of it each time.

My summary, if you can- you should do this[1].

[1] I was not asked to write this review and have no affiliation, commercial or otherwise with anyone or any organisation related to the delivery of this course. I paid my own course fee and was on leave from employment at the time.

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